When something is believed to be certain, we say it is “written in stone.”
Last month I witnessed that kind of certainty alongside the construction site of our new children’s hospital. Beneath my feet, in the freshly-laid sidewalk, someone had scratched a message of which they seemed fairly certain: “Jesus Saves.”
Certainty can be good a thing. We need to board an airplane with some assurance it will bring us safely to our destination. We need certainty when we employ medical treatments. We need to be certain of the love of our spouse or parent.
But when it comes to faith, I’m not looking for a faith that will help me dispel uncertainty; I’m searching for a faith that will help me excel in the midst of uncertainty.
Whenever I witness the certainty of faith proclaimed in sidewalk graffiti like “Jesus Saves,” I want to ask, “Do you know what you need saving from?”
When I see the placards at football games touting “Jesus is the answer,” I want to shout, “Do you know the questions?”
That’s because real faith thrives with questions.
My father’s family comes from a group of Baptists called the Primitive Baptists. (They have a Web site, www.primitivebaptist.org, so I suppose they can’t be too primitive.) They believe in predestination. They don’t ask many questions. They are sure God handpicks people for heaven as well as handpicking them for eternal barbecue.
Fortunately, my father’s faith led us away from his roots, but I still hear this kind of preaching as I channel surf late-night cable. And it’s easy to take potshots at these groups, because we are so certain we bear no resemblance to this egocentric faith.
But I’m not so sure.
We may not be Primitive Baptists, but we’re capable of displaying our primitive faith when we wave a flag declaring God is on our side. I think we become kissing cousins with these guys when we say God favors the red or blue states. I even think we take on a twin-like appearance when, coincidentally, our God seems to love or hate the same things we love or hate.
At the end of the day, you can say you have faith and God figured out and defined, but when you do, he won’t be God anymore. You’ve just shrink-wrapped him. He’ll be something you’ve confined to a space or a place. He’ll be something you’ll use to compare and measure your friends and your family.
The book “Comfortable with Uncertainty” by Pema Chodron points out the problem with certainty in faith is it always leaves people behind. This kind of faith, whether it’s a journey to a Tibetan wise man or a visit with a televangelist, always will be what Chodron calls a faith of “personal escape.”
Real faith requires a reach into uncertainty. It’s the kind of reach the much controversial theologian Karl Bart called “a leap of faith.” It’s the kind of reach Jesus described in the parable of the mustard seed. He described the beginning of faith as the planting of a small mustard seed because he knew that faith always has small and unsteady beginnings.
Jesus knew real faith always will require the surrender of certainty.
Yes, “Jesus Saves,” but most often I believe it is self-centered certainty that Jesus is most capable of saving us from.